Do Horses Really Sleep Standing Up?

Have you ever wondered how horses sleep? Have you seen one in the field with its leg cocked and eyes closed, and wondered how it can sleep standing up?

Sep 10, 2023By Nikita Hillier
do horses really sleep standing up

It doesn’t come as a shock to hear that horses require a consistent sleep schedule in order to function. After all, the same applies to all creatures. Though, unlike humans and many other creatures on Earth, horses actually have some very unique sleep characteristics.

We all know horses are fascinating creatures, but learning about their sleep requirements will only have you further in awe of these creatures. In this blog, we will answer one of the questions on everyone’s tongues.

Do horses REALLY sleep standing up? Find out the answer below!

How Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

paint horse resting pasture
Image Credit: FotoRieth on Pixabay

So, first of all, the answer is yes. Horses do sleep standing up! Unfortunately, though, the answer isn’t just as simple as that.

Horses have a very cool mechanism in their hindquarters (back end). This unique mechanism is known as the stay apparatus, which allows the stifle of the horse, much like our kneecap, to dislocate and lock the back legs. This mechanism is single-handedly responsible for ensuring that horses are able to stay upright without having to stay awake.

We get it, it sounds painful. However, unless horses have other contraindications, this completely natural mechanism causes no harm at all. When this mechanism is used, horses will rest on their opposite hind limb and appear to lean on their hip.

Pretty cool, right?

Can Horses Sleep Laying Down?

chestnut foal sleeping
Image Credit: Rihaij on Pixabay

Of course, they can! Just because they can sleep standing up, it doesn’t mean they always do. It’s already quite apparent that horses have unique sleeping characteristics.

So, while horses do often sleep standing up when they require REM sleep, they will find a quiet, safe spot to rest their body. Horses cannot achieve REM sleep while they are in a standing position. Studies have concluded that horses need roughly 2-3 hours of sleep every single day, with 30 minutes of that being REM sleep.

Most of the time, this is achieved in short naps of only 10-15 minutes. It’s also important to note that horses will only rest in places where they feel safe and comfortable. By making your horse’s environment safe, giving them a friend to nap with, and ensuring that they are free from things such as roaming dogs, they will be able to achieve their crucial REM sleep.

Unfortunately, when horses are unable to achieve REM sleep, they will become sleep deprived. This can lead to severe injury and even death in severe circumstances. The bottom line: make sure your horse is getting enough REM sleep.

How Long Do Horses Sleep For?

grey horse laying down
Image Credit: Rihaij on Pixabay

Horses only sleep for around 2-3 hours per day on average. However, older horses and foals will often sleep longer. Older horses may find it easier to sleep for longer periods as opposed to walking around due to their aging bodies.

Foals, on the other hand, need all the sleep they can get for their little growing bodies.

What Happens If My Horse Doesn’t Sleep Enough?

horses laying down pasture
Image Credit: Veejay56 on Pixabay

As we stated above, horses who don’t sleep enough will have issues. These issues can lead to both human and equine injury or death, depending on the severity. Horses who aren’t meeting their REM sleep quota will sometimes even collapse.

This can cause severe injury to the horse or the person handling it. If your horse is unstable on its feet and you don’t think it’s getting the right amount of REM sleep, you should definitely consult with your vet.

They could be lacking REM sleep due to a physical problem or lack of a safe space. They could even be experiencing pain when lying down.

Sleep Disorders in Horses

wild horses laying down
Image Credit: Hansbenn on Pixabay

As of now, very few studies have been done on sleep disorders in equines. However, current studies are beginning to unveil quite a lot about how sleep disorders may be affecting our equine companions. Three of the most common sleep disorders being studied in horses are sleep deprivation, hypersomnia, and narcolepsy.

Sleep Deprivation

In horses, this is often caused by a severe lack of REM sleep. This can happen when horses have had a change in routine, environment, or traveled. Some other causes include inadequate bedding, too much noise, and nasty companions.


Hypersomnia occurs when your horse is sleeping far too much. Many people think that extra sleep is helpful. Though, this extra sleep can actually be detrimental to the health of your horse. Usually, when hypersomnia occurs, your horse has been unable to achieve REM sleep.


Horses who experience narcolepsy often have abnormal REM sleep patterns and experience a lot of tiredness. Horses experiencing narcolepsy will also often lose control over their legs and lose muscle tone. They can even randomly fall asleep wherever they are without warning!

What Are the Risks of Inadequate Sleep?

bay horses laying down pasture
Image Credit: Lisafeischl on Pixabay

In horses, inadequate sleep can be absolutely detrimental to the way your horse looks, feels, behaves, and exists. If your horse is injuring itself constantly, showing poor performance, or exhibiting aggressive behavior, this can be a huge sign of a sleep issue.

Horses may also experience severe drowsiness, an inability to control their body, reluctance to lie down, and a lack of attention. If you notice this in your equine companion, it is a good idea to consider speaking to your vet. A qualified veterinary professional will be able to diagnose and treat the issue your horse is dealing with.

Nikita Hillier
By Nikita Hillier

Nikita is a huge animal lover who has grown up on a farm with many different animals, from dogs and cats to horses and cows! She has a lot of experience in the equine industry and is even in the process of studying for an internationally accredited Equine Sports Massage Certificate! In her spare time, she enjoys writing and spending time with her beloved animals!